We don’t yet know what caused the online census to crash. Either the site was attacked by hackers, or it couldn’t cope with the level of real traffic from people trying to fill in the survey. Either way, it’s a massive government failure. I’m not just talking about failure of security, planning, management and communication; though obviously it was all of these things. No, I’m talking about the beast of an elephant slobbering and wheezing in the corner of the room, which the media have done a great job of ignoring, but has crashed its way onto centre-stage regardless, in the most public and embarrassing way possible. By shitting on the floor.
The census fail is the public face of the consequence of slash-and-burn-small-government-cutting-spending-for-the-sake-of-cutting-spending-worldview which has been imposed on the public by the Abbott and Turnbull government and every Liberal government throughout history because, well that’s just how they roll. The Australian Bureau of Statistics, one of the victims of this mess, had a $68 million dollar cut in Abbott’s 2014 wrecking-ball budget. The same year, the census site was outsourced to IBM for $9.6 million dollars. I am not a tech-expert but I know enough about the internet to know that it costs money to keep sites secure, and it costs money to host a site on a server large enough to accommodate millions of users at once. If there’s not enough money, say if you’ve had a huge cut in the budget, you trim where you can. $68 million is a lot more trimming than a couple of redundancies and no biscuits in the tearoom. So when tech-experts scratch their heads and ask why on earth the census site could only cope with 1 million users an hour, when it needed to cope with 3 million during the peak evening hours, they should be drawing a straight line from the census fail straight to the small government ideology of the Abbott / Turnbull government.
The census fail has reminded us, not that we didn’t know already, that the budget is not just a spreadsheet of numbers, with cuts here, cuts there, cuts everywhere, which don’t impact on the reality of life in Australia. We’re not living in a virtual government spending world here. We live with the consequences of the Liberal cuts every day. Sure, we might consider ourselves a first world country with a high standard of living, as a country who is smart and has our shit together. But our government couldn’t even survey us without causing a huge debacle. The reason for this is because they cut-corners on the project. They treat the jobs of public servants – the servants to the people – like they don’t count. Like they’re dispensable. Multiply the census fail across every sector hurt by Liberal budget cuts, whether Federal or State governments, and you have the same problems occurring in education, health, public transport, the arts, infrastructure, social services, aged care, child protection, environmental protection, the list goes on and on. These cuts aren’t just abstract concepts. They impact on us. They impact on the quality of our lives. On the number of jobs in our economy. On our standard of living.
Just because we don’t all get to see the massive failures of government as publically as we saw the census fail last night, doesn’t mean there’s not a huge amount of pain out there. But it’s not just the pain we have to worry about. It’s the lost opportunities. An ineffectual, underfunded, badly run ideologically-skewed government is bad for all of us. Bad for our health. Bad for our education and skills. Bad for our economy. Bad for our wealth. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this article about the wealth of blue Democrat run states in America versus red Republican run states. The authors describe how red states, who ‘cut and extract’, are poorer overall than blue states, who invest in education, health, infrastructure etc. Even though blue states pay higher levels of tax to maintain this investment, low and behold, the investment pays off because the people in blue states are healthier (they live longer), they are better educated and they are wealthier.
So next time you hear Turnbull, or a journalist for that matter, explaining how sensible and wise they are for cutting government spending, to fulfil their goal of getting-government-out-of-the-way of their profit-making-mates, remember you’re the one hurt by the cuts. Your country is poorer because of Liberal cuts. You are poorer because of Liberal cuts. The census fail is a public humiliation for the Turnbull government. But it’s not just a technology fail. It’s a failure of ideology. Full stop.